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  • We all want to think that our way of seeing the world is the "right" one, and that everyone who is an Epicurean will agree with us, but it seems to me that that just isn't so, and it is very disappointing to people when they realize that.

    I have been liking Epicureanism so far because it's been serving me as a way to more easily identify what's right and what's wrong, without overcomplicating things. I still have the hope that this is possible. But it's also shown so far to be a bit problematic.


    When you talk to someone and try to make them see your point of view from the perspective of what makes sense (generally, no particularly you) in terms of pain or pleasure, they start to answer with mental constructions of what should be, what it's always been, what's orthodox and how that's more safe, etc... and they show an almost visceral reaction when you point that out, but that doesn't make the truth false, it just makes then inaccessible at the moment.


    This also brings to mind something I've been grappling with lately... since pleasure and pain are things you can only experience yourself, it makes it very clear that things can start to become less absolute (and thus less comfortable - hence the resistance) and more relative... perhaps a person does something that is not the best for a third party, but it brings him geunine pleasure, or it eliminates genuine pain, so he wasn't acting with harm in mind... so how can you say he is bad if he is even ignorant of the pain he's causing to said third party... If he does it after it has been brought to his attention the pain his suffering to someone else, then he would be bad, but not before? :/

  • 1- One would think I could spell Epicurean by now -- apparently not!


    2 - Camotero I may be missing some of the subtlety of your question and maybe Don or Godfrey or others will answer better, but my first response is that you have to be clear what it means to label someone "bad" (or "good"). I think you're on the right track to see how relative and contextual everything is, and terms like "good" and "bad" as ordinarily viewed are often thought of as absolute, so they are outside the contextual / relative framework, and therefore I think Epicurus would say (and did say) that such absolute standards do not exist. That's pretty much the explicit message of the final ten PDs on "justice." Of course from our individual perspectives it certainly means something to us to consider someone a "Good person" or a "bad person," but if we're being rigorous we have to remember that out judgment comes from assessing that person as "good for us" or "bad for us" (or maybe for particular third persons we're concerned about) rather than "good" or "bad" in general. And then another implication of your question is that we need to realize that since there is no god enforcing any kind of divine or absolute law, judging someone to be "good" or "bad" is going to raise the question "So what?" With an important part of the answer being that since there is no god or absolute standard of right and wrong, it's up to living human beings to be the "enforcers" and to bring about whatever consequences for "bad conduct" are actually going to happen.

  • One more thing, as to the wiki --


    Like so many other things here I took the bull by the horns and got things started on the wiki, with the idea and hope of collaboration in the future, but not much available help at the time. Anytime anyone would like to engage further and collaborate on any aspect of the wiki or most anything else please let me know and I would be happy to extend those privileges (to people like those in the thread so far, or who come later, who've shown their good faith and interest.)

  • (1) no supernatural realm or order, (2) no reward or punishment or life of any kind after death, (3) identification of the goal and guide of life with feeling, primarily pleasure, rather than virtue or piety; (4) the view that it is correct to be confident that we can attain knowledge that is based on"reasoning" tied tightly to the senses, the anticipations, and feelings, rather than to dialectical logic; (5) a common sense view of the universe being totally natural and effectively infinite in size, eternal in time, and in which humans on earth are neither the only life in the universe nor the highest.

    Perhaps what you've summed up here includes what I'm about to say... but it's been kind of revelatory for me now that I'm reading DeWitt. Once I read about the acceptance that Socratic, and then Platonic, thought got out of their rhetorical ability, it's started to become more evedient the extent to which "Plato's 'forms'" (or whatever you want to call these unnecessarily-complex, undefinable-definitions) have permeated everything in our world. I see plenty of conflict caused by our unconscious acceptance of the existence of things that aren't there, and that we've grown up with, and that we take for as real as the air we breathe. So one thing I would add, although, like I said, perhaps is already there, is a conscious and disciplined effort to "catch" these concepts that we normally accept automatically, because of their ubiquitous nature, and the lack of awareness of almost everybody about them.


    Trying to be more concrete, an example of this could be the "shoulds" that we think of as unavoidable: ultra competitiveness; enduring sickening stress because of a work ethic; professional success and prestige; I don't know if I'm making sense...

  • I was about to stop there but perhaps it must be included that humans possess a degree of agency that assures us that neither fate nor theories of hard determinism make it useless for us to exert ourselves to improve our lives.

    For me the answer to the free will/determinism debate perhaps won't have a concrete answer, but I compare it to something I read in my Epicurean explorations about whether or not we should care about some gods that, if they exist, don't actually show godlike qualities, at least not in a way beneficial for us to care... similiarly, if free willl doesn't exist, the illussion is so real, that it actually doesn't matter.

  • This also brings to mind something I've been grappling with lately... since pleasure and pain are things you can only experience yourself, it makes it very clear that things can start to become less absolute (and thus less comfortable - hence the resistance) and more relative... ... so how can you say he is bad if he is even ignorant of the pain he's causing to said third party... If he does it after it has been brought to his attention the pain his suffering to someone else, then he would be bad, but not before? :/

    Excellent questions and points to consider, camotero .

    This, too, is something I grapple with. This is how I'm beginning to reach a conclusion for myself. I hope this helps to see i too am struggling.

    We grow up in and live in a culture that wants to have absolutes. Religions want to have god-given absolute laws of right and wrong. Some people want to insist on universal rights like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The US Declaration of Independence states that there are "inalienable" rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." At times, I would like to believe that, too.

    Epicurus disagrees.

    To Epicurus, justice is what is decided on among human communities to procure safety from others and to not allow people to harm other people. When those contracts and agreements are violated, the violators must be punished (by ways agreed on within the community) to keep everyone else safe from harm.

    It seems to me there probably are some negative actions that are or should be considered injust through time (since humans appear to have an innate sense of justice and fairness according to some research on toddlers and young children I've seen). Agreeing on all those may be difficult, but I think a consensus could be arrived at. But it will be subjective and mutually agreed on. There is no universal law giver or source of The Good in the universe. If we want a just world, we have to work to build it ourselves. And we have to live by "neither harm nor be harmed" in our own lives.

    People are neither good nor bad. Their actions are neither intrinsically good or bad. Have they harmed someone and gone against the social contract? If so, they deserve punishment. Have they done something "bad" but no one's come to harm. Then it doesn't matter. I can say I think their actions are ill-advised and won't lead to lasting pleasure for them. But, I don't think, I can call them "bad."

    In your example, if someone harms or slights someone else knowingly, chances are that other person can potentially make the life of that person that harmed them difficult in the future. That is not a direction to go for lasting pleasure. If one is "good" and just to others, chances are you will be treated well and justly by others. That's a reason to be "good." Not because God says so or it's a universal law.

    As I said, my Epicurean understanding continues to evolve.

  • . The US Declaration of Independence states that there are "inalienable" rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

    Yes I agree, that formulation is certainly a problem. I don't think enough is known about the development of Jefferson's thought to know how much he was into Epicurus at the time he was involved in the Declaration, but I haven't tried to figure it out. The only way I could consider that reconcilable with Epicurus would be if he were referring to "inalienable" in the sense of the Epicurean/Lucretius doctrine of properties and qualities of bodies, as in the part of Book 1 of Lucretius where several examples are given of things like water being wet, or so forth, and it being impossible to remove the quality without destroying the nature of the thing.


    I would definitely think that the common view that he means a set of rights installed and protected by a god or supernatural force is not something that can be squared with Epicurus.



    So one thing I would add, although, like I said, perhaps is already there, is a conscious and disciplined effort to "catch" these concepts that we normally accept automatically, because of their ubiquitous nature, and the lack of awareness of almost everybody about them.

    i very much agree that such an attitude of active thinking and active effort to root out false ideas seems definitely to have been a significant part of the ancient Epicurean attitude. I think that is what people think about in relating Epicurus to the skeptics, in that it is good to have a skeptical attitude toward claims which do not seem to be supported by evidence, but then people get carried away and need to remember that Epicurus does not allege that all knowledge is impossible, just that our conclusions need to be carefully checked and supported.



    People are neither good nor bad. Their actions are neither intrinsically good or bad. Have they harmed someone and gone against the social contract? If so, they deserve punishment. Have they done something "bad" but no one's come to harm. Then it doesn't matter. I can say I think their actions are ill-advised and won't lead to lasting pleasure for them. But, I don't think, I can call them "bad."

    I agree with this, but I also know that some people think it is a "word game" to seem to be throwing out the words "good" and "bad" entirely, so I suppose the real point is that those words can be very useful IF they are properly understood to have a subjective basis rather than some kind of mystical supernatural objective nature.

  • We can write torrents of words here, and definitely gain some pleasure from that, but unless we have "real-life" friends of the type Epicurus was referring to, and nor just "virtual" friends, then the pleasure we gain will not be as full as it could be,...


    and Cassius' additional quote:


    "....It seems to me that Epicurus was always and will always be the best fit for practical common sense people who are averse to Mumbo-Jumbo and unrealistic expectations, so the issue is how to find and connect with those, who aren't necessarily going to be found on Facebook or Reddit or Twitter, or hanging out in philosophy interest groups ..."

    I hope it's okay for me to add in some thoughts even though this thread was from last year...regarding teaching this philosophy to others. My own beliefs might place me halfway between "Epicurean Friends.com" and "Society of Epicurus.com", and yet also maybe a bit of Cyrenaics.


    I should confess that I've done very little study of philosophy in general, let alone Epicurean philosophy. I just see how going toward pleasure in thoughts and actions is a helpful guide in living life, for me. Just a short time time after first beginning to read about the philosophy of Epicurus, it resonated for me, so much so, that I thought it might be fun to start a "Meetup group" in the city in which I live.


    As I've been diving deeper into reading posts on this site (as well as reading other sources) the more I study, the more unclear I get about what Epicurus actually taught.


    And some reasons that might complicate sharing Epicurus' philosophy:


    1) The name "Epicurean" - as it exists to the every day common understanding is: one who is devoted to the enjoyment of fine food and wine. It will be difficult to overcome that definition of "Epicurean".


    2) The academic interpretation vs. DeWitt interpretation (both of which I have yet to fully grasp) seems to lend itself to endless debate, and is further complicated if you are wanting to use the phrase "Classical Epicureanism".


    3) "Pleasure is the highest good" - this phrase is ethically incomplete, and it is too vague and open to multiple interpretations.


    There might be other reasons in addition. So these might be complicating your situation with expanding your outreach.


    For myself, it has occurred to me that if I want to start a meetup, the name might have to have words other than "Epicurean" or "Epicurus".

    .

  • Thanks for your comments Philia. Each of those concerns have answers to them which (as you say) you apparently have not studied the philosophy long enough to understand.


    At the level you are discussing what you are talking about is not Epicurean philosophy at all, so it probably does not make sense to call it that for the sake of avoiding misunderstanding all around.


    Unfortunately there is really no way to avoid the "work" (pleasant though it may be) of studying the philosophy so as to understand the truths and dispell the errors.


    It's a great goal for you to assemble a group of friends and to pursue pleasure in a general sense, but until you grapple with the philosophy issues and decide to take Epicurus' side as your own, you're not talking Epicurean philosophy and you'll probably do yourself and your friends more harm than good by disappointing yourself and then by inaccurately portraying half-formed thoughts as Epicurean.


    One of Epicurus' distinctive attitudes as displayed in the Vatican Saying at the top of our home page and in other sayings is that it is important to proclaim TRUE philosophy, and that is not to be compromised even if those around you do not understand the truth. Hopefully you and they WILL come to understand the true philosophy over time, but keep that in mind as you proceed and if you decide to promote your own eclectic blend, you will very likely be better off being honest to everyone about that so that you all will be on the same page and avoid the bitter disputes that come when people feel they have been misled.

  • It's more than okay for you to add your thoughts :) In fact, I think your fresh perspective is quite valuable. Thanks!

    1) The name "Epicurean" - as it exists to the every day common understanding is: one who is devoted to the enjoyment of fine food and wine. It will be difficult to overcome that definition of "Epicurean".

    Oddly enough, the original Epicureans including in the time of Epicurus himself dealt with this exact problem, too. People back then couldn't get over the idea of pleasure as the guide for life and attributed all kinds of fancy food stereotypes and debauchery to the Epicureans. However, just liked the modern Stoics have, I think we can eventually work through the stereotypes associated with the name "Epicurean" and claim it back. The words small e "epicurean" and capital E "Epicurean" can hopefully coexist like stoic and Stoic. That being said, I fully agree with you that it won't be easy.


    2) The academic interpretation vs. DeWitt interpretation (both of which I have yet to fully grasp) seems to lend itself to endless debate, and is further complicated if you are wanting to use the phrase "Classical Epicureanism".

    i think we're all trying to fully grasp it, so you're not alone :) The point I often come back to is that Epicurus wanted his philosophy to be understandable to everyone: men, women, young, old, etc. That's one reason it spread throughout the ancient world and why the early Christians saw it as such a threat. That's one of the reasons we have those ancient stereotypes and slanders. Personally, I try to return to the fundamentals as contained in the Principal Doctrines and Letters. Your points are well taken!



    3) "Pleasure is the highest good" - this phrase is ethically incomplete, and it is too vague and open to multiple interpretations.

    We're having that exact conversation on what that phrase means on another thread. I would say it's a starting point. Encapsulated in that phrase, for me, is the idea that we should pursue the most pleasurable life and make decisions that point us in that direction. Sometimes we'll undergo pain for future pleasure (ex, the pain of exercise for a healthier life). Also, for me, that phrase means why do we do virtuous actions? They make us feel good (pleasure). Why do we look forward to seeing friends? They bring is pleasure. Pain and pleasure are guides to what to avoid and what to pursue.


    Thank you again for your post!! I think you've added valuable food for thought!

  • Kalosyni , I wanted to add that, if you haven't run into it yet, I find the Tetrapharmakos (literally, "four ingredient medicine") a good starting place to think about what Epicurus's philosophy entails. Some on this forum may beg to differ, but I find it one of the most condensed, succinct summaries and it has ancient origins (quoted or written by Philodemus himself). Here's a personal translation:


    Nothing to fear from gods.

    Not to be anxious about death

    The Good (pleasure) is easy to find;

    And the Terrible (pain) can be endured.


    That's the nutshell version in my opinion. Commentary and discussion of each of those lines could fill a book, but that's a starting point. Especially line 3. I believe moments of pleasure are available every day including recollection of past pleasures. Moment by moment, we decide to find pleasure or not. Carpe diem means Pluck the ripe fruit of pleasure that's right in front of you now.

  • Some on this forum may beg to differ,

    LOL he's probably referring mainly to me! ;)


    I should confess that I've done very little study of philosophy in general, let alone Epicurean philosophy.

    I think the deeper you read into the philosophy the more you'll feel that this formulation (maybe or maybe not by Philodemus) is dramatically inadequate as a full statement of the philosophy, just as you find a statement like "pleasure is the greatest good" to be inadequate.


    On the other hand, both the tetrapharmakon and the "greatest good" formulation are very useful as starting points for discussion and focusing on the issues involved, so they do have their uses even in my own perspective. They are partial statements useful in some contexts, and only by discussing the limitations and the contexts do you grow in understanding of when they are useful and when they are not and what else may be needed.


    It's probably not lost on you that the rules of the forum are that we are here to promote Epicurean philosophy and not eclectic blends. At some point if you do decide to promote something that's your own blend then it becomes inappropriate to promote it here, and you'll want your own website and your own forum. However the purpose of this forum is for discussion and study of the issues of Epicurean philosophy, and all of us were at one point or another just grappling with these same issues. So it is totally appropriate for you to raise issues and discuss possibilities and generally proceed with as deep a good-faith discussion as you like, so I hope you will.


    Raise each of the points you want to discuss in detail, and I think you'll find me and a number of other people are happy to respond and help you think through the issues, and in doing so that helps us all.

  • Philia has raised some very good points that we regularly have run into in the past and we'll run into as long as we're associated with Epicurean philosophy. I hope several of us will comment on these points as talking through them is good for everyone, not just for Philia, and I hope we'll get much more elaboration from Philia in response.

  • It's good reading everyone's comments, ideas, and helpful suggestions.


    Feeling grateful for the learning resources this forum provides :)